Personal Connection Eases Isolation for Elderly

By Sam Beal of the Butler Eagle

For many people, spring is a difficult time to stay indoors. It’s warm enough for walks, the threat of snow has melted away and Easter is around the corner.

The coronavirus pandemic has chased many Pennsylvanians inside. But there are some, like residents in senior and assisted living communities, who already were there. With new regulations in place for travel and visiting, shut-ins have even less contact with the outside world.

“Social isolation can be difficult for anyone,” said Frank Skrip, public relations director for Concordia Lutheran Ministries. “But for older folks … this is a really tough time.”

Like many assisted and senior living facilities, Concordia facilities are closed to visitors. This has instigated new and creative means of communication between residents and the outside world.

Dino Capestrani, communication director with Concordia Community Support Services, said one service that’s gotten a lot of attention is Concordia’s Tele-CareGivers program.

Tele-CareGivers connects senior or disabled residents with the community via daily phone check-ins. Volunteers call briefly every day to see how residents are doing.

“We’re maxed out in volunteers,” Capestrani said. “But we’ve run out of people to call.”

Capestrani said Concordia is looking for more residents to be part of the program. If someone knows of a resident who could benefit, they should contact Concordia at 724-352-6260. Skrip said for staff members, seeing seniors interact with others is fulfilling.

“You know that in that moment, as strange as things are right now, they have some joy and hope,” Skrip said.

Concordia is also providing a number of virtual experiences for those in its 15 communities, like daily video devotions from chaplaincy staff. Employees also help residents use Skype, access games on Facebook and receive e-cards.

Virtual visits can light up a senior’s face, according to Mark O’Donnell, Lutheran SeniorLife director.

“We have multiple examples of people in tears,” O’Donnell said.

But O’Donnell said there are other ways to connect, particularly with seniors.

“The generation that’s most impacted (by COVID-19) loved to write and receive letters,” O’Donnell said. “Write them a letter.”

While messages such as chain letters have their place in society, O’Donnell said it’s important to personalize notes to senior residents. Receiving a message from someone they know helps many seniors stay upbeat.

Young writers are especially welcome. O’Donnell said letter writing is a good project for students, now that they’re at home indefinitely.

“I don’t see anything that makes (residents) light up more,” O’Donnell said. “A note from a young kid who they know … that’s a treasure.”

Lutheran SeniorLife is still receiving and distributing mail to residents and patients in its five communities. O’Donnell said he is personally encouraging people to write to the seniors in their lives. But any means of communication is appreciated.

“There is no visitation,” O’Donnell said. “Any communication for seniors is really critical at this time.”